Post image for How do you say…me?


Many aspects of living outside your birth country can be unsettling and difficult to adjust to. Forging new relationships in a foreign language is certainly top of my list.

Using a second language, it’s hard to convey a real sense of yourself to those around you. Sarah Turnbull, author of a book about expat life in Paris, relays her experience of attending a dinner party. She spoke little French and other guests wrongly perceived her as quiet and shy.

“I’d said very little all night. When I did speak, it was to issue childlike statements or ask simple questions which made me cringe at my own dumbness.”

I can relate, even though I am by nature a quiet person. An introvert. It’s why I choose to write for a living instead of pursuing a career in public speaking. I’m not the most verbal person with strangers in English, but for a decade now I’ve faced the dilemma of communicating primarily in Dutch.

I speak it well enough to get by in daily life, understand the education system my son is entering, follow the country’s news and political events, watch Dutch television programmes and chat to the neighbours.

Forbidden entry, in Dutch

Forbidden entry, in Dutch

However, when it comes to deep, meaningful conversations about something other than the weather or the state of the local park, a foreign language is one of the biggest barriers to sharing my personal identity.

I find myself lacking the vocabulary to express the real me.

I scrape the top of the emotion and describe a basic feeling, but there is no depth to my foreign words. A perplexed look and a shallow comment is really not representative of who I am.

I wonder if my Dutch family and friends will ever know the me who does have an opinion on important matters, who does have deep feelings on a range of topics.

How do you overcome the obstacle of language and let the real you shine through?

Amanda van Mulligen is a British-born writer, blogger and mother experiencing life in the Netherlands.

  • Pingback: Most affecting: 1 year later « expat+HAREM, the global niche()

  • Pingback: Expat type two « expat+HAREM, the global niche()

  • Keiko Samuels

    My native language is Japanese. I moved to Michigan USA at the age 16 by myself.
    I did not understand what was going on around me. As school started, I began to speak and act just like an American. I lived in this country for 30plus years. Married an American and held a high position in the society. People thought of me an an American first and foremost.

    I moved to Chiangmai, Thailand 7 years ago. People around me look like me. I am immediately accepted because I am Asian and I am older.

    I did not know what I had been missing in the States

Previous post:

Next post: